I’ve been glued to the television for the last few days since news broke that the three women held captive for ten years were rescued. At first I was intrigued by the fact that my hometown of Cleveland was on national TV. But as we learned more about Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry, and Michelle Knight, the more I could not stop watching. The stories we are hearing are horrific; the sexual abuse, the pregnancies, the starvation. I’m sure we’ll learn even more soon enough. And with additional news that Ariel Castro may face the death penalty, the legal debate of when life begins will seriously pick-up.
But something we learned recently is also haunting me. The girls knew Castro before they were abducted and allegedly agreed to a ride when he offered one. When I heard that Castro was not a stranger, I knew it was time for me to again have that important conversation with my children.
I’m not the type of mom to hide reality from my children. Instead, I’d rather they understand the realities and dangers so that they can be safe and prepared. News stories like what is coming out of Cleveland give parents an opportunity to have an important conversation about missing and abducted children. Years ago parents were told to tell our children to avoid and fear strangers. The method was “stranger, danger.” But today, we know that teaching your kids to fear strangers will only help a little. The reality as we’ve learned from the Cleveland kidnappings and many others is that 75% of children are abducted by people they know. With those numbers, we must educate our children differently.
What do we teach our children about abductions and safety? Here are my tips below.
- Talk with your children but do not scare them. You don’t want your children living in fear but you do want them to be careful when they are playing outside or out with friends or on play dates.
- It’s not stranger danger. Tell your kids about the dangers of strangers but more importantly, how people we know a little bit can be dangerous too. They should not go into an adult neighbor’s car or house unless mom or dad told them beforehand that they should. This rule applies to invitations by dads of friends, uncles, cousins of friends, people in the neighborhood and even moms. We then practice scenarios together using real life neighbors as example.
- Have a family password. Because emergencies can happen, I explain that if mom or dad ever need to change the plans, we’ll find a helper and give that helper our family password. So if anyone ever tells them there’s an emergency, my kids should ask for the password. If that person doesn’t have it, say no thank you. Or, they can ask that person to call mom or dad so that they can hear our voice and okay the helper. No password, no call, no thank you helper!
- Have a safe list. We have a very short list of people that my children should automatically trust. No password or phone call needed. In the event there is ever any trouble, they can go to this person in the case of an emergency.
- Do not panic and freeze. If someone ever tries to grab, hurt, or take them, I tell my kids not to freeze but to think fast and move fast while yelling “I need help!” Find the nearest mom and get help.
Updated! Check out this clip from my interview with News 4 WJXT where I discussed these tips on the local evening news!
What are your tips for talking child safety with your children?
Photo credit: V. Policard/Cleveland Ohio